Medications used in addiction treatment

Overview of Addiction Treatment Medications

Medications are now a vital part of addiction treatment. They can ease withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and act as a form of harm prevention. This article will provide an overview of the medications used to treat addiction, making it easier for people to stick to their recovery objectives. The medications used to treat addiction include:
  • Antidepressants
  • Mood stabilizers
  • Antipsychotics
  • Opioid agonists
  • Opioid antagonists
  • Benzodiazepines

Types of Medications

Medications are important in addiction treatment. They can be classified into two categories: those that help with withdrawal symptoms and those that help people stay sober. For instance, opioids like buprenorphine are used to manage opioid use disorder withdrawal symptoms. Meanwhile, antidepressants and mood stabilizers help with mental health. Understanding medications used in addiction treatment is useful. Common medications include anti-addiction drugs, opioid agonists and antagonists, benzodiazepines, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, and naltrexone-type meds. Anti-addiction meds are designed to treat addiction. They reduce cravings and create negative consequences for substance use or abuse. Examples include: naltrexone (Vivitrol), acamprosate (Campral), nalmefene (Selincro), disulfiram (Antabuse) and buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone). Opioid agonists and antagonists both work on the brain as opioids do. Agonists activate pleasure-related areas of the brain, reducing cravings without producing a pleasurable high. Examples include methadone (Methadose) and buprenorphine/naloxone combo products. Antagonists bind to opioid receptors without activating them, blocking the effects of opioid misuse. Examples include naltrexone (ReVia) and extended release forms like Vivitrol shots and injection kits. Benzodiazepines may be prescribed to treat anxiety related to chemical dependency. Common ones are diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), alprazolam (Xanax). These should only be prescribed short-term as there’s a risk for dependence. Antipsychotics may be prescribed for co-occurring mental illness associated with substance abuse. These drugs block dopamine transmissions, lessening psychotic episode symptoms. Examples include risperidone (Risperdal), olanzapine (Zyprexa), quetiapine (Serqelyx), ziprasidone (Geodon). Mood stabilizers are given when someone has unstable affective episodes related to substance abuse. Examples include lithium carbonate, valproic acid/divalproex sodium, lamotrigine, topiramate. Naltrexone type medications block opiate and alcohol receptors, preventing any pleasure from abusing these substances. It helps to keep people focused by eliminating cravings. Common brands include ReVia, Depade, and Embeda.

Benefits of Medications

MATs can help with addiction recovery. They come in many forms and offer personalized plans. Common examples are: Methadone, Buprenorphine, Naltrexone, and Antidepressants.
  • Methadone is used to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, allowing users to return to normal activities.
  • Buprenorphine helps with opiate cravings and stabilizes physical dependence.
  • Naltrexone is for preventing opioid relapse and alcohol use disorders.
  • Antidepressants help manage withdrawal symptoms after detox. Different types of antidepressants include SSRIs, SNRIs, TCAs, and Bupropion hydrochloride (Wellbutrin).

Opioid Addiction Treatment Medications

Opioid addiction is a big health problem. Research and treatment are needed to help. Medications can be a useful aid in managing the symptoms and cravings. This section will talk about medications used in opioid addiction treatment, and the advantages they offer:


Methadone is a synthetic opioid used to treat opioid addiction since the 1960s. It targets the same opioid receptors in the brain as other opioids, yet does not provide users with euphoria. This helps prevent cravings and withdrawal symptoms during the transition from opioid misuse to abstinence. There are several advantages of using methadone for treating opioid addiction:
  • It prevents addicts from experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms.
  • It reduces cravings for illicit drugs through its agonist action on mu-opioid receptors in the brain.
  • It improves productivity levels and social functioning when used as part of a treatment program.
  • It also reduces mortality rates among those struggling with opiate addictions compared to those without treatment.
  • Side effects (e.g. confusion or constipation) can be managed with medical supervision.


Buprenorphine is a medication utilized in the treatment of opioid addiction. It attaches to the same brain receptors as other opioids, such as heroin, yet with a much weaker effect. This prevents withdrawal symptoms, reduces cravings and blocks the effects of opioids. It also has a unique side effect profile, leading to fewer issues with sedation and respiratory depression. As a long-term treatment option, it can be taken alone or with other medications like naltrexone or Suboxone. Buprenorphine shouldn’t be used with benzodiazepines or alcohol without medical supervision.


Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist used to treat opioid misuse and addiction. FDA-approved formulations include extended-release (XR) injectable and oral naltrexone. These treatments reduce cravings and block euphoria related to using opioids. Research has found that it can reduce relapse in individuals recovering from an opioid disorder. XR injectable naltrexone binds to opioid receptors, blocking the “high” felt from opioids. It lasts for 4 weeks, so it does not need to be taken daily. Oral naltrexone is prescribed for milder opioid withdrawal symptoms or after a medically-assisted detox program. It must be taken daily and its effects are shorter lasting. Naltrexone can help prevent relapse by blocking rewarding effects of opioids. It should not be used without professional supervision or complete treatment recommendations. Otherwise, achieving successful abstinence could be delayed.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment Medications

Alcohol addiction is a massive issue in the US. Thankfully, there are medication-assisted treatments to help those struggling with it. This article will cover the drugs used to treat alcohol addiction, how they work and their potential side effects. We’ll learn about the various medications available and other factors to help you decide if any of these treatments may be suitable for you.


Naltrexone is an opiate and alcohol antagonist. Since 1984, it has been used to help people with addiction. It eliminates the physical effects of drinking and reduces cravings. Naltrexone works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain. This prevents opioids from attaching and providing their effects. This helps to prevent relapse in recovering opioid addicts. It also provides protection against alcohol abuse. The medication is usually taken once every other week. Studies suggest that naltrexone is most effective when used with a comprehensive treatment program. This program should include counseling, peer support and participation in a 12-Step program like Alcoholics Anonymous. Patients may also benefit from personalized counseling by an addiction specialist.


Acamprosate is a medication used to aid people dependent on alcohol to remain abstinent. It does this by adjusting the chemical balance in the brain, caused by too much alcohol, and reduces longing for it. It takes days or weeks for it to take effect. This medicine is normally combined with counselling and other supportive treatments, like 12-step programs or Alcoholics Anonymous. In certain cases, it may be prescribed in addition to other meds, for example naltrexone or disulfiram. Some of the frequent side effects of acamprosate include:
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Headaches


Disulfiram (Antabuse) is a medication used to treat alcohol abuse and addiction. The FDA approved it for chronic alcoholism since 1951. When taken as prescribed, it causes a violent physical reaction when combined with alcohol, making drinking undesirable. Disulfiram blocks an enzyme involved in metabolizing alcohol, leading to a build-up of acetaldehyde. This is a toxic chemical which causes many of the effects of a hangover. Disulfiram can be used to treat adolescents and adults with panic disorder, depression and schizophrenia responding to substance behavior. To maximize effectiveness and reduce risks, individuals must adhere to their prescription plans before taking any dose. Side effects include drowsiness, vomiting or nausea, skin rash or redness and discomfort. More severe health consequences can occur if not managed properly, such as liver damage, anxiety or mood swings.

Stimulant Addiction Treatment Medications

Stimulant addiction treatments make use of meds. The amount and type depend on the individual’s needs. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the meds used to treat stimulant addiction:

Amphetamine-Type Stimulants

ATS, such as meth, dextroamphetamine, and methylphenidate, are used to treat addiction. They help reduce cravings, increase motivation, and promote sobriety. ATS is taken as part of a comprehensive addiction program, which can include counseling and support groups. Benefits of ATS include improved brain functioning, less restlessness, better sleep, and decreased relapse risk. The effects depend on dosage and how long it’s used. ATS should only be used as part of treatment and not to replace therapy. Common ATS medications are Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse. They can interact with other drugs or alcohol and cause mental health problems if taken incorrectly. To avoid misuse, individuals using ATS should get mental health evaluations regularly.


Cocaine addiction treatment medications are designed to help with symptoms of cocaine abuse. It is a medical disorder, so medical and psychological treatment is best. Medication-assisted therapy, which combines medicine and counseling, works the best. Different medications are used for treatment. Stimulant medicines like Focalin and Adderall are used, but mainly to treat conditions like depression or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Tablets need to be taken several times a day. Antidepressants like Wellbutrin may be prescribed to reduce cravings. This drug increases serotonin in the brain, linked to sensation-seeking behaviors. Bupropion may also help lower relapse rates for those struggling with cocaine addiction. Naltrexone (Vivitrol) may be prescribed as an opioid antagonist to reduce overdose risk or cravings. This blocks the effects of opiate drugs if an addict relapses, thus reducing the risk of an overdose.


Meth, or methamphetamine, is a mighty stimulant drug. It ups alertness, focus and energy, but also quickens the heartbeat and breathing. People take meth orally or inject it for a rush of pleasure, alertness and confidence. Sadly, it can lead to addiction. Fortunately, there are interventions to treat addiction to meth or other stimulants. Medications are often prescribed to reduce cravings and help people recover. Examples of these are:
  • Antidepressants
  • Anticonvulsants/anti-epileptics
  • Dopamine agonists
  • Naltrexone
  • Stimulant antagonists
Depending on the person, doctors can recommend different combinations and doses of these medications to treat specific symptoms.

Other Addiction Treatment Medications

Medications for treating addiction exist, like buprenorphine and naltrexone. Others also help. These can reduce cravings, aid with anxiety and depression, and more. Let’s explore the other medications used in addiction treatment:

Anti-Anxiety Medications

In addiction treatment, anti-anxiety meds are used to reduce anxiety connected to substance use disorder. Taking meds that relieve uncomfortable feelings, like tension and fear, can help people in drug or alcohol treatment. Examples include benzodiazepines such as Valium, Ativan, and Xanax. Non-benzodiazepines, like Buspirone, and antidepressants, like Zoloft, may be prescribed to address co-occurring mental health issues like depression or OCD. These drugs help lessen cravings by calming anxieties and stabilizing moods. They can also lessen withdrawal symptoms like shaking or tremors. However, they should not be seen as a long-term solution due to the potential for misuse and abuse. Before deciding which medication is right, individuals should talk to a qualified healthcare professional about the benefits and risks of each med.


Antidepressants may help those with substance use disorders. However, they are not a replacement for other treatments such as CBT or contingency management. Additionally, their effectiveness is limited when used alone. The two most common categories are SSRIs and TCAs. SSRIs affect serotonin levels in the brain, reducing cravings and drug use. Examples include Prozac, Celexa, Lexapro, Paxil, and Zoloft. TCAs have fewer side effects and last longer, but can make it harder to stay motivated due to sedation. Examples include amitriptyline, clomipramine, desipramine, doxepin, imipramine, and nortriptyline. Do not self-prescribe these medicines without medical supervision. Side effects range from fatigue to nausea and weight gain. Your doctor will monitor you closely. So, always keep appointments with your physician.


Antipsychotics are widely used to treat mental health issues like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. They can also be beneficial for substance use disorder treatment. This is because they reduce cravings and psychomotor agitation associated with withdrawal. Some of the common antipsychotics used in addiction treatment are:
  • Risperidone (Risperdal®)
  • Clozapine (Clozaril®)
  • Quetiapine (Seroquel®)
  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa®)
  • Aripiprazole (Abilify®)
  • Ziprasidone (Geodon®)

Frequently Asked Questions

There are several medications used in addiction treatment, including methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone, and acamprosate.

Methadone and buprenorphine are opioid agonists that reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms in people addicted to opioids. Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that blocks the effects of opioids and reduces cravings. Acamprosate is used in the treatment of alcohol addiction and reduces the symptoms of withdrawal.

These medications are safe when used according to the prescribed dosage and under close medical supervision. However, they can have side effects like all medications, which can include nausea, dizziness, and drowsiness.

No, as different substances have different effects on the brain and body. For example, opioids have different properties than alcohol or cocaine. The medication used for addiction treatment depends on the substance being abused.

No, medication alone is not enough to cure addiction. It is just one part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program and should be used in conjunction with therapy, counseling, and support groups.

There is a possibility of addiction to the medications that are used in the treatment of addiction. However, this risk is low when the medication is prescribed and monitored by a healthcare professional and when used in conjunction with a comprehensive addiction treatment program.

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